Main Questions in the King v. Burwell Case

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The King v. Burwell is a lawsuit that challenges treasury regulations issued under the ACA that effect subsidies for the purchase of health insurance on the federal exchange.  The challengers argue that the law only allows for subsidies on state-run exchanges and that the on-going regulation of providing subsidies on both state run exchanges and federal exchanges exceeds the authority granted to Congress.  The Supreme Court will hear arguments for this case in March and will give a decision in July.  The two questions at the heart of King v. Burwell will be what did Congress mean? And who is hurt by the ACA?  

Of the two questions the main focus will be if Congress intended, for states using the federal exchange, to have access to federal subsidies, or were the subsidies meant to serve as an incentive for the states to develop their own state-based exchange.  Over the last few years there is evidence that argues Congress's intent on both sides.  A video of the ACA architect, Jonathan Guber, shows him saying that the subsidies were in fact a reward and a threat to states to lose out on millions if they choose not to build an exchange.  On the other hand there are emails, statements, and votes that give credence to the idea that the bill was sloppily written.

The second question the courts will have to address will be whether the subsidies hurt the plaintiffs by subjecting them to the individual mandate fine.  What remains to be seen in King v. Burwell is whether some of the plaintiffs claims lack standings due to their income and veterans status.  This argument was in fact brought up in lower courts but not addresses.  

With so much at stake King v. Burwell is setting up to frame the future of the ACA this spring.